Anne Beard lives on a rural property in the foothills of the Blue Mountains in the high desert of eastern Oregon. There the expansive views across vast grasslands to Mount Adams and the Cascades provide both the solace and inspiration she needs to create her award-winning furniture designs. But it is her immediate influences—the flora and fauna that appear in her garden, the everyday lifestyle of her working-ranching neighbors, and her immersion in the world of rodeo and Western culture—that provide an endless source of ideas for designs that capture the spirit of the West.
Sagebrush, cactus, horses, brands, and wildlife are just some of the icons that manifest in her designs. The pieces range from serene—pine needles with snow—to dynamic: bucking horses, running deer, and smiling cowgirls. A curved footstool covered with embossed leather features a quiet cowboy scene in a high desert landscape. Ojibwa floral patterns and decorative nailhead patterns make a dramatic statement against a black background. A fringed and tassled chair featuring a bucking horse is accompanied by interlocking horseshoe-shaped ottomans.
Says the artist, who never repeats a design, “It suits my nature to do one-of-a-kind pieces. It’s also a great challenge creatively.” Beard’s designs—and her exacting craftsmanship—resonate. The recipient of many awards, her work has been featured in magazines, coffee-table books, and documentaries.
Her path has been a circuitous one. She grew up on a Washington ranch five miles down a gravel road at the base of a pass that was closed from October to June. The bus ride to school took an hour each way. Their home, she recalls, “was remote and high and snowy.” But being able to roam free in the summertime with a menagerie of livestock and pets made it a paradise. A love of the natural world and for the Western experience has run a steady course through Beard’s life, even as she moved 20 times in 20 years during her husband Casey’s military career. But it wasn’t until Casey retired from the military and moved to Oregon to work in the family’s stock-contracting business that the artist truly found her creative calling.
Growing up, she thought she had no aptitude for sewing; she and her sister were more interested in horses. They showed in both Western and English disciplines all over the Northwest, her sister going on to win national titles. “The greatest gift you can give your kids is the responsibility of an animal,” Beard reflects. “It changes your perspective for your whole life.” Fortunately, she didn’t need to sew.
My mom was a fearless seamstress and extremely creative,” she says, describing matching outfits her mother made the sisters for special occasions. Once she moved away from home, however, “I realized that if I wanted to have things no one else had, I was going to have to make them myself.” She started to embrace the craft just as her mother was becoming a professional textile artist. It was during one of Casey’s many postings, at the Naval War College in Rhode Island, that Beard’s mother asked for help with some Seminole piecework, inadvertently launching her daughter’s career.
Beard collaborated with her mother for a decade. She enjoyed the work, the galleries, the craft shows, and the shared artistic exploration; she also found that art was a career that could withstand frequent moves. Over time, though, Anne realized she was interested in pursuing a different direction. After the conclusion of the Gulf War, Casey passed up a posting to Hawaii in favor of a return to civilian life. Casey would immerse himself in the world of horses, stock, and rodeo that he’d grown up in; Anne would be free to pursue her artistic impulses.
Beard was known for her wearable art in silk and was starting to employ appliquéd designs on wool gabardine when in 1994 she received an invitation to show at the Western Design Conference in Wyoming. “I thought this would be my venue for the direction I wanted to go with images of the West, whether pine trees, mountains, or working ranch themes. I thought, this is it.” She recalls arriving in Cody with items to show but no display set-up. Legendary furniture maker Jim Covert had erected a canvas tent in the space next to hers; soon he was hammering nails into the lodgepole of his tent so she could hang her work. “I couldn’t believe it; it was so generous. I was mesmerized, so taken with everything, not just the work, but the people. And it’s been that way ever since.”
Beard’s experience was transformative; she has been a participant in Cody’s annual artisan showcase (first called the Western Design Conference, then Cody High Style and now known as By Western Hands) ever since. “After that first year,” she recalls, “I knew exactly what direction I’d take. I’d envisioned it all along and saw that no one else was doing it. And that’s always been a big incentive for me. “
In her fourth year, Beard won the Switchback Ranch Purchase Award, the most coveted award at the show. Her Purple Sage Smoking Jacket, a meticulously crafted piece adorned with ranching iconography and details such as fringed sleeves, would become part of the permanent collection of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Being thus honored for a piece of wearable art, she says, gave her the courage to implement her vision. The very next year she arrived with her first iteration of “furniture wearing clothes’: an ottoman upholstered in brown and red gabardine and adorned with appliquéd horseshoes, hand-twisted doeskin tassels, and featuring an image of a cowgirl with her horse. Tucked under the pleated skirt, a leather strip bore lyrics from the song ‘Adobe Walls’: “As sure as there are stars above, we’re not the first to fall in love.” The piece was a hit of the show, winning the Best Western Spirit Award. Beard has never looked back.
Anne Beard celebrates the beauty and romance of the West, but not as an outsider looking in or a part-time resident who sees only blue skies. She is keenly aware of the rhythms of nature, from idyllic to extreme, the challenges of ranch life, the historically unfair treatment of the native peoples, and the grueling road that is the PRCA circuit. She endures long winters in a tough climate; her immediate neighbors are cattle ranchers; her husband is general manager of the historic Pendleton Round-Up. This annual event attracts 70,000 Western enthusiasts and brings her into contact with stock contractors, rodeo competitors, and the Indian tribal members who partner in producing it. From these influences—and the cyclical parade of nature in her garden and grasslands—the artist draws on an endless source of inspiration.
She enjoys watching a weekly Oregon Public broadcast show that features craftspeople from across the state: artists, musicians, bit- and spur-makers (and Anne Beard, in one of its first seasons). “It’s the artistic process that’s intriguing for me,” she says. “They all have a need to create and a need for the calmness it produces. All admit to a precarious livelihood, but if it produces that serenity in them they can carry that out into the world.”
And in each of her own unique works, in striving to capture “all of the West”, she does exactly that.
To buy and see more of Anne’s beautiful work please visit annebeard.com.
Photography by Dale DeGabriele.